Journal of Geography (Chigaku Zasshi)
Online ISSN : 1884-0884
Print ISSN : 0022-135X
ISSN-L : 0022-135X
Study on American Whaling by Sailing Vessels in the 19th Century
Consideration of Whaling Manufacture in New England
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2005 Volume 114 Issue 4 Pages 561-578


The writer contributed to “Journal of Geography 2000” Vol.109 on whaling by sailing vessels in the 19th century. Here, the writer studied details the management of whaling voyages at that time.
Whaling voyages extended from one year to two, threes, and four years. This necessitated whaling vessels calling at several ports en route for supplies of water, firewood and food. Hakodate in Japan, which was already open to foreign vessels, was one of the ports of call. Whale oil and whalebone harvested during a voyage were sent by cargo clippers to the respective home ports in New England, via supply ports centering on Honolulu in the Sandwich Isis. The purpose was to empty the hold and quickly cash in the cargo.
The places of birth of crews were New England and other areas in the USA, but they actually lived around their home ports and had us citizenship. Some of crew members died due to various accidents, or left their vessels because of illness. In addition, in the Pacific, a number of unskilled hands deserted their vessels at some islands of call. Therefore, the vacancies had to be filled at port of calls. As a result, many crews changed composition from the time of departure.
The lay-system was contracted at the port of departure. Dividends based on percentage of proceeds of whale oil and whalebone were paid to crews upon return to port. This lay-system was adopted by American whaling, but there were great differences in dividends received by skilled and unskilled hands. In addition, in the case of unskilled hands, dividend account was greatly reduced by advance money and interest before and during the sailing. Therefore, their net income was very small.
Untill the 1850s, whaling prospered and proceeds from whale oil and whalebone were large.
Naturally, dividends for investors were large. Therefore, shipbuilding casts were easily covered by around 2 voyages. But, in the 1870s when American whaling declined as proceeds from whale oil and whalebone were reduced by the lay-system, both dividends for investors and crews also decreased, although whaling as an enterprise was still carried on. But, interest in whaling of both investors and crews was receding. In the 1870s the number of American crews decreased, and foreign crews including skilled hands increased. Many extra hands also had to be hired.
In the history of economics American whaling by sailing vessels in the 19th century can be considered to be at the manufacturing stage. Theory explained that manufacturing develops into a capitalist industry through the Industrial Revolution or mechanization. However, American whaling by sailing vessels did not follow this course. It can be considered that both investors and crews (capital and labor) moved out of the whaling industry to other sectors in the latter part of the 19th century as whale resource decreased. The whale oil market price fell due to competition from petroleum. Moreover, at this time in New England there were large investments in various industries, and the labor market on land was expanding. This is in contrast to the Japanese case in which a manufacturing scale fishery developed into capitalist stage fishery with a limited investment area and a small labor market. The writer would like to pursue this subject.

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